Nekomonogatari (Black) – 02

Koyomi comes to Oshino’s place so Shinobu can feed off him, but she wants donuts first. Koyomi tells Oshino about his encounter with Hanekawa, including when they bury a silver cat with no tail. Oshino takes this as very bad news; he goes to exhume the corpse and tells Koyomi to check on Hanekawa. On his way to her house, Koyomi spots Hanekawa in her underwear, sporting cat ears and carrying the unconscious bodies of her stepparents. The “Curse Cat” has taken over her body, and rips his arm off. He wakes up next to Shinobu, mostly healed. Oshino tells Koyomi to sit back and let a pro take care of the situation from here.

The moments in these Monogatari animes when the oddity is finally revealed are always visceral and chilling, and the Curse Cat’s is no different, suddenly appearing in the background while Koyomi is riding his bike. She moves like a cat, talks like a cat (if cats could talk, that is) and abjures clothing like a cat, and when Koyomi dares speak out of turn, she literally bites his arm clean off, causing a fountain of blood. Koyomi may part-vampire, but he’s still human enough to be killed by this cat.

Since this is a prequel to Bakemonogatari, we’re aware of incidents in which Koyomi has seen the horrors that oddities have wrought: he was turned by an adult Shinobu prior to this, after all. But this case is made more disturbing by the fact Hanekawa is a friend. Just after his better judgement warned him not to meddle in Hanekawa’s family affairs, Oshino tells him there’s nothing he can do to help Hanekawa. After all, Koyomi is still a tourist in the supernatural world, lacking the skill or ability to influence it. Which must be quite frustrating!


Rating: 8 (Great)

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 01

It’s Golden Week, and Koyomi (Kamiya Hiroshi) seeks advice from Tsukihi (Iguchi Yuka) about whether he’s in love. After much discussion, they conclude he’s sexually frustrated and should buy porn. On his way out the door he encounters Karen (Kitamura Eri), back from a marathon-length run, who gives him a much more direct definition of love. While out shopping Koyomi spots Hanekawa Tsubasa (Horie Yui), and after flipping her skirt, they go for a walk. She tells him how she has no family and how her non-biological parents couldn’t care less about her. He heals the bruise on her face where her stepdad slapped her and goes home, more depressed than ever.

Here is part one in a four-part series that will focus on Hanekawa Tsubasa and her family, which takes place after Koyomi is turned into a vampire, but before he meets his eventual first girlfriend, Senjougahara. The story is pretty simple: Koyomi believes he may have fallen for Hanekawa, seeks his sisters’ advice, and ends up pitying Hanekawa’s sad living situation. Like the other Monogatari series, it is heavy on style, Nisio Isin’s long conversations thick with wordplay and metahumor, gorgeously-designed settings, buildings, and rooms, color cards, intense closeups and facial expression, and weird fanservice.

Shinbo Akiyuki‘s unique, playful style is not for everyone, but we for one enjoy the offbeat, avant-garde presentation. The most mundance actions (like Karen drinking water or Koyomi flipping Hanekawa’s skirt) are given almost comically epic visual prominence. I liken Shinbo to Wes Anderson or even Kubrick, as a director with a very consistent aesthetic who is obsessively detail-oriented. What little action ever occurs in the talky episodes is made more engaging due to its rarity. So much anime – even very good anime – is by-the-numbers, visually. Shinbo always seeks to not only to ignore the numbers, but replace them with other symbols.


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Kokoro Connect – 17 (Fin)

The three thugs tie up Inaba and take her to a warehouse and summon Setouchi. Inaba is able to use the phenomenon to tell the others where she is. They storm in and Yui takes care of two of the three thugs. The third pulls a knife on Inaba, and Iori makes her move, pretending to betray the others so he’ll let his guard down. They knock him out and escape with Setouchi. Iori forgives, hits, and apologizes to her, then asks if they can be friends. While the five reunited CRC members walk home, the third thug runs at them with a pipe. Taichi shields Inaba and gets knocked out.

While unconscious, Taichi has a conversation with Iori using the phenomenon. They’re both glad the other fell in love, but after all that’s happened, they agree to reset their relationship. When Taichi wakes up, Inaba is by his bed. Her thoughts scream her love for him, and he asks her out right there. She accepts and they start dating. Heartseed tells Iori the phenomenon is over. Their club presentation goes off without a hitch, and Gotou decides to advise both clubs. Life returns to normal, with Inaba and Taichi a couple, Yui and Aoki drawing closer, and Iori becoming popular on her own terms.

Fun Fact: Every high school in Japan has an abandoned warehouse nearby where delinquent students can kidnap classmates and hold them there until they’re rescued by friends. Was this an incredibly silly development? Sure, but it does give the finale some much-appreciated action elements. Yui shows the importance of a young lady being trained in self-defense while Iori gets out of bed and does whatever the hell she wants to do, which is save Inaba from the shitstorm she wrought. Using her powers of deception (and her sex appeal) to lower the thug’s guard was some awesome, heroic shit. Inaba and Taichi told Iori to be her own person, and that’s what she does.

And the real her is amazing. She sees that Setouchi is in the same boat, and befriends her so they can work through it together. Everyone seems to have found themselves and one another. Iori and Taichi work things out…in their heads. The girls do the presentation in cosplay after all…because why not? Yui teaches Inaba a submission hold, because let’s face it, Inaba can get into trouble sometimes. Taichi and Inaba (or rather “Dereban”) end up together, and they work beautifully. The episode is replete with satisfying scenes that are payoff for all the teeth-gnashing and emotional discord. It’s a well-earned happy ending.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Kokoro Connect – 16

After getting told off by Iori, Inaba can’t argue with anything she said. Yui keeps her and Taichi and Aoki focused on completing their work for the presentation. When the rumors in class persist, led by Setouchi Kaori, Taichi tells the class he came onto Iori, causing the radical change in her attitude, in an attempt to stop the rumors. Kaori doesn’t buy it. After finals, the club room is ransacked and all their work sabotaged. They vow to start over, but when Iori sees the room, she goes after Kaori and has to be held back by Taichi and Inaba.

They get Iori in a room, where Inaba confesses every embarrassing detail about her love of Taichi. Iori is initially unimpressed, but the emotions transmitted between the three result in her confession that she’s really a very dark and cold person who got into the habit of acting like the opposite, and can’t do it anymore, especially in light of all of Heartseed’s experiments. Finally understanding, Taichi and Inaba tell her she’ll have their friendship no matter what. She asks for time to think. That night, Inaba comes across boys who ransacked the clubroom and confronts them, and they grab her.

Whew, sorry for the long synopsis, but a shitton of stuff got done and said in this episode entitled “Determination and Resolution” that we just happen to be reviewing the day after resolutions are made going forward into a new year. The dramatic heart of this episode is a lengthy confrontation between Iori and Taichi, with Tachi backing up the latter. Inaba’s painfully honest confessions intended to trigger an emotional catharsis end up provoking another diatribe by Iori about how she’s fed the fuck up with maintaining the Iori everyone’s known. That’s not her.

Iori is tired of being the “tragic heroine”, but like it or not, it’s what she is, victim of both the happiness she derived from acting happy and cheerful around everyone, and the torture of Heartseed’s machinations, which have nearly cost Iori her life and sanity on more than one occasion. Heartseed destroyed any chance of the “ideal Iori” surviving, and without that, Iori felt she didn’t deserve the love and support of the others anymore. That shame, and her frustration with nobody understanding the true cause of it, has her at her breaking point.

So, why don’t Inaba and Taichi just say “Fine, nice knowing you…fuck off, bitch?” Because they really do still consider her a friend, even if she deceived them. And it’s not like she didn’t have good reasons to do so. Of course, it isn’t enough that the other four CRC members forgive and accept Real Iori; her words and attitudes toward other classmates has stirred up a storm of hate. The scorned Kaori tells some boys to ransack the CRC clubroom, and when Inaba finds those responsible, she can’t control her temper and confronts the three of them, alone, at night. Bad, bad move.

Other details we want to mention (whew, we’ve written way too much here. That’s what Kokoro Connect does): it’s interesting to see Yui’s relatively quiet transformation to the strong club manager keeping everyone focused on the task at hand. She even prods(shames) Taichi into action, as he attempts to dispel the Iori rumors and repair her reputation by sacrificing his own. That’s the “selfless freak” we know, and it seems to work on everyone except Kaori and her two aides. It’s also hilarious. Inaba and Taichi have been very generous with the embarrassing confessions in these extra episodes. Also, the scene in which Gotou stops by and for once he isn’t Heartseed – very nicely done.


Rating: 9 (Superior)